After a spinal-cord injury, life goes on

Published: January 9, 2012  |  Source: startribune.com  | Spinal Cord Injury: ,
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The 24-hour news cycle has affected all of us in different ways. For Jack Jablonski, I fear it has hijacked the time that could help him adjust to his new spinal-cord injury.

Eighteen years ago, as I put our sons on the bus for kindergarten, my husband, John, flipped off his bicycle and broke his neck at the fifth vertebrae. I was told of the permanent physical consequences of his spinal-cord injury.

John was given time to recover from surgery, to engage in physical therapy and to realize more gradually what having C5 quadriplegia would be like.

More than 11,000 people experienced a spinal-cord injury resulting in paralysis in the United States last year. When John broke his neck, it felt like we were the first family in the world to go through that trauma.

It was scary, sometimes lonely and often intimidating as we sought to figure out what he could and couldn’t do with his new body.

How could we bring him home to our inaccessible house, and what needed to change to make it a home again? How would he get back to work? What about transporation? What would being a father and husband look like now?

Unfortunately, Jack is in very good company. More than one in five Minnesotans has a disability.

And as wonderful as the medical team members were, the best, most practical information we received we learned from other people with disabilities.

You leave the medical facilities and fear that this physical disability will control your life. Sometimes it does. But most of the time it doesn’t. You figure out new ways to do old things.

Those who have gone before you tell you ways to save time on personal cares and what stores are most wheelchair-friendly. You join new sports teams. Life goes on.

My husband works full time and drives a van from his wheelchair. Our sons recently graduated from college, and our daughter will start high school in the fall. He figured out the parenting.

We will soon celebrate our 24th wedding anniversary and are starting to imagine life as empty-nesters. He figured out how to be my husband.

We have a fully accessible home, where John does most of the cooking and folds laundry while watching Netflix. Once his personal cares are finished and he is in his wheelchair, he is completely independent.

Until he’s not.

What do the bad disability days look like?

The bad days are when you can’t cross the street because nobody shoveled the curb cut. When you can’t get out of your van because somebody parked where your lift drops.

When, at the restaurant, the waiter asks me what “he” wants to eat. When, at the gas station, the attendant won’t pump the gas or does it reluctantly.

When you go to a play and sit with only one of your children because they only sell the wheelchair seating in pairs.

Most days, however, look a lot like other families’ days. They are full of work, school, errands and play. But it’s individuals who most often make the difference between the good days and the bad days.

That’s why John passes six other gas stations to get to Mr. Vang, who pumps his gas with a good morning and a smile. It’s why he shops for groceries at night and always gets in Brenda’s line because she looks him in the eye and doesn’t pack the bags too heavy for him to carry.

It’s why we love the new Twins stadium, where the entire family can sit together and enjoy the game.

From what I’ve read about Jack Jablonski, his strength, and his family and friends, I have no doubt that he will be successful and adapt to life with a spinal-cord injury. He can still do great things and dream big, although they may be different dreams.

I hope that everyone following his story and supporting him through the trauma will reflect on their own life and make a choice to enable Jack and others to have fewer bad disability days.

Offer to help with the door; shovel your sidewalk; ramp the steps to your business; say good morning.

How we build the new light rail, what bus services we cut, and the simple and inexpensive physical modifications we choose to make or not to make to our businesses and homes all matter.

I’m confident Jack can rise to the occasion. I hope the rest of us will as well.

Article by: RACHEL TSCHIDA